Last week, I received an email from 360i, an ”independent metrics-driven agency that serves as strategic digital advisors to large brand marketers,” on behalf of NBC.

Here’s the email:

“Hey-

Just wanted to give you a heads up that Last Comic Standing is coming back for its 6th season starting May 22nd. Check out a promo clip here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t8wZ51OuF84&NR=1 and a couple auditions here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0wfW31GoK8.

Guest judges for this season include Angela Kinsey and Oscar Nuñez from The Office, George Wendt and John Ratzenberger from Cheers, and Lonny Ross and Keith Powell from 30 Rock. See more at the official Last Comic Standing site: http://www.nbc.com/Last_Comic_Standing/

Feel free to share with your readers and catch the new season of Last Comic Standing on NBC starting on May 22 at 9:30pm/8:30c.

Best,
[Name Removed]

[Name Removed]
360i for NBC”

I was both amused and disappointed by 360i’s email – amused by the idea that a digital marketing agency would send out such a spammy email on behalf of a major client like NBC; disappointed by the idea that a digital marketing agency would be so naive as to believe that a generic, unsolicited email encouraging me to share something of no relevance to my readers could be effective.

While I’m no stranger to the less-than-wholesome behaviors some marketing agencies and PR firms will engage in, the email I received from 360i is deserving of attention because I think it demonstrates two key points.

First, brands, many of whom have been seduced by the promise of the internet, are often putting their reputations in the hands of clueless digital marketing agencies that purport to provide expert solutions.

Second, in many cases, “social media marketing” campaigns designed to target bloggers (or “influencers“) are quite unsophisticated.

In the case of 360i and Last Comic Standing, the campaign formula is, for lack of a better word, stupid:

  • Post promotional videos to YouTube.
  • Send an impersonal, generic unsolicited email to bloggers and “influencers” with links to said YouTube videos, regardless of whether or not the subject matter is reasonably of any relevance to the recipient.
  • Encourage the recipients to “share” the videos and information with their readers.

Sadly, from what I’ve seen and heard, such campaigns are increasingly common.

Most unfortunately, the biggest losers are the brands that entrust their reputations to digital marketing agencies that sell the hype of the internet and social media but are incapable of delivering any substance in the form of ROI.

While there are certainly digital marketers that are ethical and offer services of value, there’s little comfort to be found in the fact that an agency like 360i has been recognized by entities such as Advertising Age and is a member of organizations that are supposed to be advocating for higher standards in the digital marketing industry.

Clearly, the fact that major brands are retaining agencies like 360i and that these agencies are engaging in spammy marketing campaigns indicates that the world of digital marketing has a lot of growing up to do.

For all of the promise and hype of digital marketing, at the end of the day even “reputable” agencies cannot always be trusted to treat their client’s brands with the type of care one would reasonably expect.

I’m sure that some would argue that the email above reflects a mistake on the part of the junior-level employee who sent it, but I don’t buy that. I’m quite confident that this person was simply doing the job they had been asked to do.

NBC should hold 360i’s executives responsible for engaging in such a meaningless marketing campaign because I have no doubt that they know very well how these campaigns are being implemented.

While this poorly-executed campaign probably wasn’t expensive, there’s no reason for brands like NBC to waste money on campaigns that realistically won’t generate a viable return.

And while this spammy campaign in and of itself obviously won’t have a widespread negative impact on NBC’s brand, if brands continue to retain digital marketing agencies that engage in this type of marketing, over the long-term it won’t do their brands any favors.

Hopefully brands will start taking more care when selecting digital marketing agencies and will be more proactive in holding the agencies they do retain accountable to basic standards.

In response, hopefully more digital marketing agencies will start providing the quality services they’re supposed to be providing.